A year ago I wrote to the campus community as it was completing its first week of remote working and learning, thanking you for your resilience amidst uncertainty. In the face of state cutbacks, I also announced measures to tighten our belts for the semester ahead. We did not know at the time how intense and longstanding the COVID-19 disruption would be.
A year later—a year—I write to express my heightened gratitude for your spirit and fortitude. What an extraordinary time this continues to be. Someday we will look back at the historic forces and their impact on higher education and our lives. For today, let me look forward to the near term to update you on spring, summer, and fall 2021 plans and actions.
As our dashboard indicates, we continue to register a small though steady number of positive cases—between 2 and 6 daily between March 22 and March 27—the majority of which are off-campus student cases. Testing continues twice per week for students on or coming to campus and once per week for employees. Compliance is strong as testing becomes a normal—and easy—part of our routine. Thank you again to our testing partners, Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, for responsive and quick results, and to our entire community for adherence to this critical part of our health and safety protocol.
One result of contained case numbers is our ability to prudently open the way to greater activity on campus, all still conducted with adherence to Roscoe’s Pledge. For example:
- Gitenstein Library has expanded its hours and spaces for student study and gathering.
- Consistent with state rules, we are increasing allowable density in the Brower Student Center, a place for eating, studying, and socializing. We anticipate expanding the use of community spaces as well.
- The Music Department is working with senior music majors to allow in-person senior recitals with a small audience at Mayo Concert Hall.
- The Division of Student Affairs is supporting more student-run events on campus and is organizing group activities (e.g., fitness and intramural events) as the weather continues to warm. Spring varsity athletics, for which athletes and personnel are tested three times per week, are underway.
- Admissions is now hosting accepted students for on-campus tours and Q&A sessions. In addition to the Virtual Accepted Students Day event on April 10, starting April 1, we will host groups of up to 125 guests in Kendall Hall for in-person orientations, with opportunities for 15-person campus tours. The demand for these sessions is high as potential members of the Class of 2025 make decisions about college. Immense thanks to our deans, faculty, and staff for their help to yield these students by hosting Zoom calls, writing letters, and giving personalized tours.
In addition to these, we have our fingers crossed for culminating celebrations and activities. Many, such as Alumni Weekend, April 23–25, will be virtual to facilitate attendance by persons scattered far and wide. An increasing number, though, including the Commencement Ceremonies in Lions Stadium, are currently being planned as in-person events. We are grateful to the Commencement Committee which includes a dream team from across campus divisions and departments, for operations and logistics for the Class of 2020—over 700 members planning to return to campus April 24–25 for their academic ceremonies—and the Class of 2021, whose celebration for nearly 1,800 graduates will entail 14 ceremonies over May 19–21 to comply with state limits on outdoor group size.
Although likely to be quieter than normal, our summer experience will reflect our trajectory to greater activity where reasonable. This includes an increasing number of faculty and staff on campus this summer. Staffing plans are currently in preparation by supervisors in partnership with HR.
Summer courses will be offered in flex or remote-only instructional modes. Our Global Education team has been closely monitoring the situation for international programs. In January we canceled study abroad programs for Summer Session 1 and offered the opportunity to defer applications for a future date. The team continues to monitor conditions as well as opportunities and partners for Summer Sessions 2 and 3, and expects to bring forth recommendations shortly.
We are pleased to host TCNJ-sponsored academic activities, including our signature Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience (MUSE) program, which we will hold on campus. Thanks to a generous and highly competitive grant from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, the MUSE program will expand numbers and opportunities for students conducting research in the sciences. Students participating in the MUSE program may live on campus in single occupancy rooms.
Some of our cohort programs, including EOF, Cooperman Scholars and Harcourt Scholars, will have a mix of virtual programming and on-campus activity. The same goes for orientation activities for the incoming class of 2025 and fall 2021 transfers.
The most salient fact about fall semester is that it remains five months away, which we have learned from the experience of the past year is a long time in the life of a pandemic. Our plans, necessarily qualified at this point, will reflect our continued compliance with state and local guidance and COVID-19 conditions.
That said, our current intention is to return to an on-campus semester, with in-person classes and events, and students living in residence. Programs and courses regularly delivered in a blended or online modality, such as the MBA program, will be offered in these modes. If conditions allow, we look forward to resuming study abroad programs in the fall.
Residence halls will again support singles, doubles, and multiple occupancy room assignments relevant to the residence hall. We anticipate expanded dining options, including menus and venues.
On-campus activity will reflect what is allowable and safe under local and state conditions. We are planning for a return of fall varsity athletics and re-engaging in club sports, pending travel restrictions.
Following Rutgers University’s announcement mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for students in the fall, several of you have asked about our intentions to do the same. We do not plan to do so while the vaccination remains authorized for emergency use only, however we strongly encourage all members of the campus community to pursue a vaccine as health protection for yourself and our community.
To support this level of activity, beginning this summer all employees will be expected to report to work on campus pursuant to their regular work arrangement. The date for this return will be announced in the coming weeks. Note that some areas have, or will have, modified their “regular work arrangements” to capitalize on efficiencies realized in the last year. Employees will be able to apply for accommodations pursuant to our Flexible Work Arrangement and other policies.
It probably ages me to recall the ditty that “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” Regardless of whether that proves true weather-wise this coming week, I note that every month at TCNJ is one for the Lions. Thank you, now more than ever, for being strong, brave and part of our pride.
Kathryn A. Foster